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Defamation Law Reform Takes Major Step Forward

The Draft General Scheme of the Defamation (Amendment) Bill (the "General Scheme") was published on 28 March 2023.

This legislation has been drafted on foot of the comprehensive Report of the Review of the Defamation Act 2009, which was published by the Department of Justice last year. That report made wide-ranging recommendations for defamation law reform, including that measures be taken to avoid disproportionate awards of damages; to introduce a quicker and more efficient method of redress and to provide clearer protection for independent journalism. Significantly, the General Scheme provides for the abolition of juries in High Court defamation actions, widens the power of the courts to make "Norwich Pharmacal" (i.e. identification) orders in respect of anonymous publishers to the Circuit Court, and introduces a statutory Notice of Complaint process in the context of online defamation and takedown requests.

In addition, the Government press release indicates that the General Scheme takes account of a number of recent developments in the area of online media regulation, including the EU Digital Services Act, the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022 and the EU Digital Services Regulation. You can read more about those developments in our recent Data Protection, Technology and Cyber Bulletins here and here.

When announcing the General Scheme, Minster of State James Browne said:

The publication of the General Scheme of the Defamation Bill is a milestone in reform of Ireland’s defamation laws, on foot of a comprehensive review undertaken on one of our most complex areas of law that must finely balance rights protected by our Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights….Ultimately it will improve access to justice for those whose good reputation is unfairly attacked, improve the consistency and proportionality of awards and redress in defamation cases and provide clearer protection for public interest journalism and investigative reporting."

The Oireachtas Committee on Justice will now commence pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme and the stated intention is for the bill to be drafted by the end of this year.

We are analysing the General Scheme and will be publishing a more detailed insight. If you have any queries in the meantime, please reach out to a member of our  Defamation, Reputation & Media Management team or your usual Matheson contact.